Rhode Island public employee unions filed a lawsuit today seeking to overturn last year's big pension overhaul. The outcome, of course, will have a big impact on workers' retirement and the state's long-term fiscal health. But what of the political ramifications?
Treasurer Gina Raimondo was the architect of the overhaul, of course. And she's attracted all sorts of glowing press, local and national, for winning passage of the bill in a deep-blue state. Most observers expect her to use the win as a launching pad for a 2014 gubernatorial run.
Raimondo, a Democrat, has to be considered the early favorite in a three-way general election match-up with Governor Chafee, the unpopular independent, and whomever the Republicans put up. But the Democratic primary could be tricky; organized labor, after all, is not terribly pleased with the treasurer.
Union leaders, as it is, should have a reasonable shot convincing the rank-and-file to steer away from Raimondo. The pension overhaul, after all, will have a real impact on their lives. And if the leadership can prevail in its lawsuit, then the argument that Raimondo overreached becomes that much easier - and, perhaps, brings some non-union Democrats along.
Indeed, one has to wonder about the boomerang effects of a decision overturning pension reform. Do the unions, already villified in this state, get even more grief for a victory that puts the state's fiscal future in jeopardy? Does Raimondo, ironically, look like the best hope to steer the state out of its new predicament?
Or does Chafee, who looks like a sharp fiscal steward after the 38 Studios fiasco, get new life with the crisis? And if so, can he resist new calls for tax hikes, which he has bravely - or, depending on your view, foolishly - championed in the face of stiff public opposition over the last couple of years?
A union victory in the courts, then, creates a whole bunch of uncertainty. But if the state prevails, that seems an unqualified boon to Raimondo's chances: her signature accomplishment validated, concerns about overreach tamped down at least a bit. Then, it's "Governor Chafee, watch out."